TL;DR: If you want the short story, scroll to lists at the bottom :D
I've always loved to experiment with myself, and while I'm not very systematic/scientific about it, I have found certain experiments "just work" without sweating the details.
I've also always been fascinated with "paleo" - mostly just because it seemed instinctively right to me. My attempts at following it haven't been the great success others have made them out to be. It's hard to say why - I know that I've never maanged to sustain the activity level and type a paleo diet recommends. I did try it half-heartedly for years though.
I've also experimented with exercise and diet - that was for a much shorter time, becasue, for me, exercise seems to require external motivation (i.e. company) and company is a very difficult thing to have consistently.
And then, lockdown happened.
Coincidentally, just before March, we were going through a rather bad comfort-eating spell ourselves. Packaged microwave TV dinners and the like. So when we were locked indoors, the time was perfect.
Shruti had great experiences with keto, although I wasn't fully convinced going without fruit and other carbs was good for me, I thought I'd give it a go with her. We started sometime in March (or was it April? I'm so unscientific I don't even know the month, forget the date we started!), but I do remember it took us 3 weeks of eating through our stockpiled supplies (we didn't go crazy munching on all the junk at home in one go :D) from the day we decided, before we actually started in earnest.
The first few days were weird. Figuring how to cook the stuff we were to eat, how to make it satisfying, how to control the cravings. And damn... what cravings! We were already down to just one slice of bread a day (with our breakfast), but breakfast without bread was weird. And then there was the matter of portion control. We had absolutely no idea how much food we'd need. And we were aiming to only do groceries once a week. We started running out of eggs pretty quickly. And everything else seemed to slow down. Suddenly, we were only eating two meals a day - breakfast and dinner. Shruti decided she won't eat after 8pm. I decided I'd only eat when I'm hungry, mealtimes be damned.
We controlled our cravings.
Made sure we don't slip up.
We had 0 cheat meals for the first two weeks.
Two weeks later, Shruti wanter her first "cheat meal". I don't remember what it was, but I don't think I enjoyed it as much as she did.
I had stopped craving the stuff I decided I won't eat.
Two weeks in, we were already losing weight.
About one kg a week!
I decided I had to go back to having fruits. It just felt wrong to me.
I loaded up on fruits. Whenever I was hungry, I'd have a fruit. Breakfast, fruit, dinner.
About 6kg or so in, I was looking visibly thinner. People were beginning to notice (in photos - we were still not meeting people). I gradually started onions, spinach, and then tomatoes. So far, so good. Shruti also found food more palatable with these few additions, so it worked for both of us. We started eating more common meals.
At some point, Shruti plateaued. I pushed a bit by upping my activity levels (also, since it was summer and bright till late, I was happy to go cycling when it was dry).
At my lightest, I reached 65 kg. I felt on top of the world. I purchased two tees to try at home, as clothes stores weren't allowing trials in store. Size XS. The cashier was unconvinced. I was unconvinced too. But 21 days' free returns, so why not.
The tees fit.
I fit into the smallest size an adult male could wear in the UK.
I was the same weight as I was when I was 13.
I was 13 24 years ago!
At this point, I declared my experiment a success.
Also, at this point, Shruti's motivation began to give way. Cheat meals got more frequent. The cravings were back. I realized how tricky paleo is for me - after every cheat day, I had to voluntarily control myself very carefully for the next couple of days or there'd be no turning back. And there were a couple of weeks where most of the days were "cheat days".
Surprisingly, my weight stayed put. I couldn't believe it. I was hovering around 66 without following any diet! How was that even possible?
Turns out, it wasn't possible. I'm now back to 68. And I can see the momentum. About half a kg every week.
Looks like it's time to "reset". But before I embark on the next phase, let's put things down for posterity.
So, here's what worked for me:
- Control what you eat, not how much you eat. If (and that's a big IF!) you eat right, you'll know when you're full, and won't feel hungry until it's time to eat again.
- (For me, not for Shruti - although I don't know how much was due to her body and how much was forced control - she's very good at control!) Don't control when you eat. If you wake up at 8am feeling hungry, go for it. If you thought you're full at 8pm so skipped dinner, but are suddenly hungry at midnight, don't go to bed hungry. MAYBE if you wake up in the middle of the night, just eat a few nuts and drink some water.
- Don't buy stuff you don't want to eat, until the day you want to eat it. This worked well since we do our groceries on weekends, and that's also when we have the time to savour our "cheat meals".
- Food is overrated. Cheat meals are overrated. They are merely gateways to happy memories associated with the food involved.
- Alcohol is overrated. But it's hard to diffrentiate between alcohol and the junk that goes with it, so it's still hard to say. A double of good quality alcohol on ice at home is the sweet spot (no puns intended) for me. More than that, and I start craving junk. And if there's junk on hand, I'm out of control.
- The 80-20 rule. Lots of places online said if you stick to your diet 80% of the time, you don't need to worry about the remaining 20%. Didn't work. Remember that one slice of bread? If I had my breakfast with one slice of bread daily, the rest of my day was inevitably out of control. As simple as that. IF the 80-20 rule worked for anyone, it was probably because they were using external control.
- Socializing over alcohol. It's just impossible to stick to reasonable amounts of alcohol in social situations. While that worked well in lockdown, it didn't work when lockdown was lifted.
- Watching my weight. It took 3 months of kinda-not-following the diet before I started gaining weight. But when I started, it seems like I can't stop. There were no warning signs - once I started piling the pounds back on, it was already too late.
- Socializing in general. When there are other people involved, it's very hard to stick to your diet without feeling weird. If it wasn't for lockdown, I'd probably never have pulled this off!
- Vacations are difficult. It's either processed food, or breaking my rules. Very hard to have a good time (since my vacations also involve eating and drinking local!) and stick to my diet.
- Buying cheat snacks "for later". NEVER EVER WORKED.
- Portion control when it comes to "cheat snacks"/meals. Once the bag of crisps is open, it's going in. Ditto for cake (serves 6? I'll have all 6 slices in one go!)
- Only eat unprocessed food
- Only eat food that's sold raw
- NO sugar, NO grains, NO lentils. NO anything that can't be eaten raw or roasted.
- Plenty of protein (but not obsessive amounts of it) - 3 whole eggs for breakfast is usually adequate, the rest is in my dinner. I enjoyed egg bhurji the most (especially boiled egg bhurji!), but it was good no matter what. As long as there were 3 eggs in it. More on that in another blog post!
- Plenty of fruit and nuts.
- As much vegetables as desired, with one caveat: too much salad made me full but low on energy.
- For meals, I switched between red/white/oily fish and the occasional shellfish. On days I wasn't too hungry, it was just veggies.
- Rendered fat > oil. However generous you are with fat, if things are being roasted, you'll be consuming minimal quantities of it anyway. The air fryer made it easy to render fat and roast.
- Minimal salt, generous spices. NO sauces.
- The one thing I didn't follow as well as I should have: Hydrate!
- Technically I should have stopped dairy, but I didn't.
- I also didn't bother with much exercise, although I made it a point to be active. Walking and cycling, when weather suited. About twice a week. Not even half as active as I was, when I was cycling to work daily but not following any diet!